Iraq’s foreign ministry has summoned Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Baghdad over accusations of meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs, a statement by the ministry said. The Saudi ambassador, who was recently installed, had said that the presence of Iranian-backed Shia militias in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group was exacerbating sectarian tensions in Iraq.
Enmity between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East has flared recently as regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen deepen long-standing rifts. Saudi Arabia executed a Shia religious leader this month, infuriating Shias around the region and arch foe Iran.
In an interview with Iraq’s al-Sumaria TV on Saturday, Saudi Ambassador Thamer al-Sabhan said the Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Front), a coalition of mostly Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary groups set up in 2014 to fight ISIL, should leave the fight against the group to Iraq’s army and official security forces in order to avoid aggravating sectarian tensions.
The reopening in December of the Saudi embassy in Baghdad, closed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, was seen as heralding closer cooperation in the fight against ISIL, which controls territory in Iraq and in Syria and has claimed bombings in Saudi Arabia. At least 40 people were killed earlier this month and nine Sunni mosques firebombed in the eastern Iraqi town of Muqdadiya in apparent retaliation for two blasts there targeting Shia militia fighters, which left 23 people dead.